It’s that time of year: the smell of freshly sharpened pencils is in the air, Facebook is bursting with “first day of school” pictures, and the little yellow bus is making its way around town again! But if you’re homeschooling, back to school time is quite a bit different in your family. Supplies don’t just include scissors and crayons – it’s piles of books, science kits, and educational toys. The house slips into disarray as Mom is frantically researching curriculum and writing up lesson plans. While the kids are glad to have more space at the park and library, you may be wondering just how you can do all this for another year!
Homeschooling can be very freeing, yes… but it also carries a definite weight. You don’t get to pass your child off to a teacher and breathe a sigh of relief – the responsibility for their education falls squarely on your shoulders. So how can you lighten your load? By finding what works best for you and your family!
Know the Common Homeschooling Methods
Whether you’re a veteran homeschooler or you’re just starting out, the most obvious first step is to choose your curriculum for the year. Before you do that, however, I would strongly encourage you to find out what your homeschooling style is. There are six main methods of homeschooling: Traditional, Classical, Charlotte Mason, Unit Studies, Eclectic, and Unschooling. Here’s a quick look at each of them:
Traditional – Also called “school at home”, this method closely mimics a traditional public classroom. Textbooks are used frequently, and students are graded (unlike most other methods). Virtual classrooms and online schools fit into this category. Curriculum examples include Alpha Omega and K12.
Classical – Uses the classic Trivium model, which divides learning into 3 categories by age: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. It’s a rigorous education that includes learning Latin and reading ancient Greek and Roman texts. Classical Conversations is the most widely known classical education program.
Charlotte Mason – Based on Charlotte Mason’s beliefs about education, this method values living books, nature study, dictation, shorter lessons, and allowing children to learn by exploration. Ambleside Online offers a free curriculum course.
Unit Studies – A unit study approach ties all school subjects into one main theme. For example, if you wanted to study the Civil War, you would learn about history, of course… But you could also learn geography by studying battle locations; health by talking about common diseases at the time; science by studying medicine on the battlefield; etc. There is no particular curriculum for unit studies, because they rely heavily on the parent finding resources to fit the theme. Lapbooks and individual unit study guides can be found through online searches.
Unschooling – Also called “child-led learning” and “delight-directed learning”, unschooling is very much the opposite of all methods listed here. Unschoolers do not create lesson plans or guide their children’s education. They allow children to learn through playing and experiencing the world naturally, providing resources and opportunities if the child is interested.
Eclectic – Eclectic homeschooling is not actually its own method, but rather a combination of the other methods. Eclectic homeschoolers embrace the parts of each style that resonate with them; they may use a textbook for math, do a nature study for science, create a unit study for history, and also allow their child to explore his own interests. My Father’s World is an eclectic “all in one” curriculum.
Find Your Own Homeschooling Style
Finding your own homeschool style can be a great starting point when choosing curriculum. It also helps you decide if something will be a good fit for your family down the road. This online quiz is very helpful for figuring out your preferred method of learning, if you don’t know it already. I took the quiz myself (and four others!), to find the best one to share here. And you don’t have to put your email in to get feedback! My results were all over the board – 15 points each for four different styles, with the others ranging from 3 to 9. Can you guess what we are? Yep, Eclectic homeschoolers! We take a little bit from every method.
Choose The Right Curriculum
After you figure out what your homeschool style is, you will want to choose a curriculum that suits your family well. I’ll be frank, this is often the most overwhelming part of homeschooling! You can do an internet search for “your style + homeschool curriculum” to start. Be sure to check out several different options. Most curriculum publishers have excellent websites with descriptions, courses of study, and samples available. Several websites even offer completely free curriculum, such as Easy Peasy and Ambleside Online. And don’t forget to use the library!
You can also find a local homeschool group and ask if anyone uses the curriculum you’re looking into. Homeschoolers are notoriously generous, and eager to share what they have and what they’ve learned. You may even be able to try out a curriculum for free by borrowing it. When we first started homeschooling (two weeks after my son had already started public school!), a kind friend offered us an entire Kindergarten homeschool program. As someone who had no idea what she was doing at the time, it was a lifesaver!
I also highly recommend visiting a homeschool conference in your area; every state has at least one. Along with fantastic advice and encouragement, each conference has what’s called a curriculum fair. Curriculum fairs offer dozens of options right at your fingertips, with experts available to answer any questions you may have. You can see each material up close, flip through its pages, and hold it in your hands. As a bonus, you don’t have to pay for shipping, and many dealers offer discounts and giveaways if you buy at the fair!
Remember That Curriculum is a Resource, Not a Master
I’d be remiss here if I didn’t point out that, while we typically think of curriculum as a boxed set that you purchase and follow, curriculum is actually just what you plan to teach. Sarah Mackenzie has a wonderful book on homeschooling called Teaching From Rest that goes into this extensively. The thing to remember is, YOU are in charge of what you’re teaching, reading, and doing in your homeschool. Don’t become a slave to the teacher’s manual. It’s there to help you, not boss you around! Remember that you’re trying to find what works for you, not what drags you around by the neck in the name of convenience. (I’m preaching to myself here!)
Does your child groan every time you pull out a certain book? Do you disagree with a recurring theme in one of your texts? Would you rather die than read another line of Shakespeare? Throw it out. I’m not kidding! You have a limited number of hours to spend with your children, why waste them on something you hate? There are amazing renditions of Shakespeare on book and DVD if you want your child to be exposed to it. There are many science texts written from a Christian perspective. And there are literally thousands of great read-aloud books to choose from. Don’t waste another second hating what you’re doing, when there are so many options available to you.
Tough It Out When Necessary
Maybe more than anyone else, homeschoolers suffer from “the grass is always greener” syndrome. We see an ad for a new product, listen to a friend describe their favorite material, or read about a new curriculum and we think… maybe we could be doing something better. Stop right there! Remember all that time you spent finding the right curriculum for your family? There’s a reason you chose it. No, it’s not perfect. The fact is, there is no perfect curriculum, not for anyone. Stick it out. Give the curriculum you so carefully chose a fair chance, and don’t make any drastic changes in a panic.
Now that’s not to say that if something isn’t working for you at all you should just grin and bear it forever. I’m the one who told you to throw it out, remember? That Kindergarten curriculum we were gifted was just not our style. We used it until Christmas that year, and then passed it on to someone else who wanted to try it. But we stuck with it for months first, and gleaned all we could from it. It was a valuable experience for discovering what we really wanted from our curriculum!
Tweak to Make it Work For You
Often all your curriculum needs is a little tweak to make it just right for you. As I said before, the curriculum is a resource. You don’t have to follow it exactly! Try swapping a book out here or there. Skip a project if it’s not going to be worth your time. (Try asking, will this activity really reinforce a concept for my kids? Or is it just extra?) Change up your schedule – maybe your child’s brain is better suited to math in the morning. Maybe you only need to do art once a week, not every day. Or if you’re like us, maybe you prefer to start your day slowly with a chapter book or Bible study. Mix it up, and see what works best!
One thing that can help tremendously is to switch to a 4 day schedule. This leaves one day a week free for field trips, co-op classes, appointments, sports, etc. Our curriculum already builds in Fridays as very light days, and it’s been wonderful for us. Our homeschool PE group meets on Friday mornings. We are then able to use the afternoons for nature walks, enrichment activities, or to catch up on anything we didn’t get to during the week. You can turn your 5-day schedule into a 4-day week by tacking that day’s work onto another day, taking your learning on the road, or dropping a few things here and there.
Be Who You Are
My last bit of advice is to simply stop trying to be who you are not. God made you unique, and He gave you your exact kids for a reason. We can spend infinite amounts of time and resources trying to be something we aren’t. Are you an introvert? Don’t sign your kids up for five activities every week. You’ll resent it. Are you a night owl? Don’t try to do school at 8 a.m. just because “that’s when school is supposed to start”. Would you rather school year-round than take a long break each summer? Do it!
We have been granted so much freedom through homeschooling, but we put such heavy chains on ourselves. That’s not how God intended it to be! Embrace who you are, love the kids God gave you, and enjoy learning together. If you are faithful to the work in front of you and the people around you, God will fill in the gaps. I promise.
Check Out My Favorite Homeschooling Resources
Below are some of my favorite homeschooling resources. If you and I were sitting at a table drinking coffee (let’s be real, I’d have hot chocolate), these are the websites I would share to inform you. These are the curricula I swear by, that have been our faithful companions through four children. And these are the books I would loan you from my own shelf, worn around the edges from re-reading year after year!
Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie
The Joyful Home Schooler by Mary Hood
Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe by Todd Wilson
My Father’s World (for grades 2-12)
Five in a Row (for preschool-1st grade)
Teaching Textbooks (math for grades 3 and up)
Home School Legal Defense Association (for legal help and homeschool laws in your state)
Next week we will begin our sixth year homeschooling. Over the years I have found what works well for my family… but that doesn’t mean we’ve got this all figured out! I still have to remind myself see things through; to remember that the teacher’s guide is not my master; and to be who the Master made me to be. If you are curious about homeschooling, afraid to begin, or struggling to keep going, I would love to help you in any way I can. Leave me a comment or contact me. Let’s pour ourselves some of that hot chocolate and chat.